Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Four Steps To Starting A Story

Drafts are due in just a few short weeks but now comes the ACTUALLY hard part:


There is a model in our textbook for very loose outlining. I would love to use it, it seems simple and usually what deters me from outlining are the many (unnecessary) steps. Still, something in my head says don’t commit to an outline, because what if I can’t write a story from the idea that is as good as I want? This seems like a silly problem but once my mind starts working like this I end up with a giant mental block that stops all thoughts except “What if it sucks?” I would love the opportunity to find out, but this giant question forms at the front of my brain and stops all processes behind it. I’m not suggesting here that I have never written anything bad, of course I have, the bulk of what I write is terrible! When I get this “What if it sucks?” block I simply find myself incapable of writing anything! It’s very frustrating, and is the reason that, despite my vows to the contrary after missing last week’s assignment, I sit here now, still struggling to post something just three days before it is due.

Here is the loose outlining formula presented to us in the text and used as our assignment this week (and next):

a. Who the character is
b. What she wants more than anything in this story
c. What threatens her or stands in her way
d. What her first step toward the story goal is going to be
(Taken from The Truth About Fiction, by Steven Schoen)

Right now, this is how I feel:

A. Who the character is:

Tricia is a mid-twenties college student, struggling to balance life and college. She is married with no children, although she does support her older brother, a veteran of the most recent Iraq conflict. As the only employed person in her household, Tricia often struggles to balance the parts of life she prefers (time with friends, family, herself) with the parts of her life that bring in money (soul-crushing retail sales). The stress of supporting the household is starting to overwhelm her, growing almost insurmountable just as the semester seems to be dragging onward toward finals that will never actually arrive.

B. What she wants more than anything in this story:

To complete a very simple outlining assignment that should not be nearly as troublesome as it has been.

C. What threatens her or stands in her way:

Work demands a great deal of her time, and while home it is difficult to focus on scholastic tasks, as it seems there are rarely any chances to spend a moment with her husband. Aside from Creative Writing, Tricia also attends class on campus twice a week, and this week there is a test in her most difficult class. All of these distractions, and her on-going writer’s block, threaten to derail her chances at writing this outline (and, by extension, passing this class).

D. What her first step toward the story goal is going to be:

Opening her blog (at least she can work on her Midterm assignment ahead of time!) and writing a scathing, vaguely mocking version of her life as an outlining exercise to prove to herself just how easy it is. She will find that it is neither easy nor hard, but simply an exercise, not unlike a vigorous stretch, which is exactly what it is meant to be.

The only problem with this story outline is, I’m stuck at the cliffhanger ending–will Tricia be able to write her outlines after completing the exercise or will the block continue? I guess we all have to stay tuned...

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